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Do You Develop The Legal System In Your World?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Steerpike, Feb 18, 2021.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I'm just curious how much time people spend developing the legal system in their fantasy world. Most fantasy novels I read, there isn't much attention paid to it. Granted, for most stories it isn't necessary to delve too deep into this aspect of things and the author may have given it more thought than is apparent in the work itself. I'm still curious whether any of you think about this aspect of the world, and if so how much time you spend developing it.
  2. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Troubadour

    Yes, within limits. I find that its a neccessity, and that it follows from the need to have some idea of how the economy works in the world you've created. After all, if you're paying for something then you've agreed a contract, so there has to be some way of sorting things out (short of violence) when you disagree on what you're paying for. Its the same with crime. If a character is faced with being executed, why are they facing it and how were they found guilty? I also found that once I'd started thinking about things like this then there were several aspects which could be used to drive the plot forwards.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    It's on my list to figure out but I haven't gotten to it yet. All my writing is on hold for the pandemic, I work slow, and I won't need it until the sequel, or possibly near the end of the first book, depending. But as a character will go through it, I need to figure something out.

    I do know that I want the judges and the prisons to be more linked than they are IRL, with prisoners visiting judges for more reasons than to protest their guilt or innocence, such as checking in regularly with their progress in a prison reform program. I also don't want jurors and defense attorneys and a combative legal system. I want the process to feel more streamlined, with maybe a few lawyers making independent recommendations for each case, and the judge kind of picking between them. As with other things in the setting I want it to be more modern, and a bit more ideal, except when it feels more sharp and dramatic. I haven't figured out just where I will need the drama yet though, aside from the way a prisoner's magic gets suppressed.
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    On the one hand, courtrooms and legal proceedings tend to be boring.

    On the other hand, courtrooms and legal proceedings played key roles in a couple of the 'Empire' books - so I had to address this to an extent.

    Outside of Solaria, it tends to be the local lord (top thug) making more or less arbitrary judgments that depend on the defendants and accusers social status, how much he likes them, and how much he's had to drink that day. Short and blunt for most people. Nobles and favored servitors/officers tend to get way lighter sentences.

    Solaria...social status plays a major role. Top of the heap is the aristocracy/senatorial class with the Emperor at the top. These people get actual jury trials with lawyers and evidence and whatnot, plus the system is weighed pretty heavily in their favor. A member of this class can (usually) 'get away' with murder (of the lower orders). Mass murder of the lower orders...probably not.

    Below the aristocracy are the 'Equals' or 'Citizens,' many of them former soldiers granted citizenship as a reward for service. Others...merchants, independent farmers, 'impoverished' or 'illegitimate aristocracy' (that managed to hang onto their wealth. Citizenship confers the right to own land, exemption from certain minor laws (what we'd call misdemeanors), voting rights (in some provinces), and a degree of legal protection, including trial by jury for serious offences. However, they lack the social immunity of the aristocracy: they murder somebody, even a a member of an inferior caste, they stand trial - but circumstances depending, they might 'walk' in such a case.

    Further down the scale are the 'Freedmen' or 'Plebes.' Free peasants, laborers, carters, sailors, some artisans. Except in special circumstances (inheritance plus weird little loophole laws) they do not get to own property, though they often run small businesses or own street vendor type deals. They get hit with minor fees and tolls for everything - including minor offences. More serious crimes, they get a tribunal - a group of three judges (one judge in some of the more backward provinces.) They can produce evidence, bring forth witnesses, even hire a lawyer - but it comes down to summary judgment.

    Bottom of the scale are serfs (slaves in many provinces). No real rights whatsoever; the local lord or their Master can impose harsh and arbitrary punishment for lesser offences. Greater felonies gets them hauled before a tribunal, much as Plebes.

    Wizards outside the church get judged for civil crimes by their social rank (citizen, plebe, whatnot). For crimes involving magic, or misuse of magic, they are tried by the True Church, effectively treated as plebes (tribunal). However, the state has to concur with the church tribunal's verdict for capital cases.

    The church claims judicial functions over its own - including employees and tenants. Mostly these people are plebes, and get hauled before tribunals for serious offences. Priests who commit felonies *can* be executed - but are more often sentenced to remote abbeys that are effectively prisons. Occasionally, church fanatics will manage to gain sufficient influence with the civil government to where they embark on witch hunts across the empire, seeking out wizards and heretics. Technically, the witch hunters are judges, so between that and cowed local imperial officials the body count can get pretty high. These pogroms invariably implode after a few years, almost always because the witch hunters overstep their bounds, killing well liked people.

    In a State of Emergency, jury trials are forfeit - all cases are by tribunal or sole judge, who can refuse evidence, witnesses, or legal representation.
  5. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Troubadour

    I love both Ace Attorney and SVU, so legal stuff can be super interesting. However, the actual laws/legal systems are just the "worldbuilding"/framework for those stories, like how the magic system is the framework for a lot of fantasy stories. The laws in AA are kinda inconsistent, like there's this one case where they talk about "evidence law" and how evidence has to be related to the thing in question and can't be introduced earlier than that, but it never really comes up again after that case. And Elliot was beating the crap out of perps for 12 seasons of SVU and no one did anything about it besides wag their finger at him.

    There's some discussions of laws in [birds], mostly to limit humans gathering and Causing Trouble, but laws kinda don't matter if there's a rebellion, you know? I focus more on information and how it's disseminated, so what the average person knows isn't the same thing as the High Council, and the King thinks something else entirely. Laws are not absolute, they're bent and broken all the time, and how people get away with that (or don't) is more interesting to me than procedurals.
  6. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

    Only the basic stuff which I think I will need for the story. Basically, I figured out the political system first - legal system can then be applied as needed. And because of the political system I have, figuring out a legal system would be impossible because each city has its own...
  7. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Of course. The watchers are a secret society with an ever shifting membership (might change weekly/monthly/bianually). They are tasked with observing and reporting anything suspicious they see to their bosses. Their primary goal is to root out corruption in the community; which includes the government, and it's entirely possible that members of the cleaning staff, or kitchen sculleries or even the dukes, lord etc... are watchers, which tend to make people paranoid about being caught doing things they shouldn't.

    If the Watcher Knights decide it is warranted, they will arrest the suspected crook whatever their position in society and submit them to a truth charm. They can only be held for one full day/night cycle and their guilt must be proven within this time frame. The Knights can only ask of things that were reported as suspicious (it's not a fishing expedition where they can ask random questions to "find" something they are guilty of) If it isn't, they are released. If they are, they are given a pennance that fits the crime. In cases of assault, the victim of the assault can beat the attacker for the same amount of time as their own assault took place, and as long as that beating doesn't result in death.If the noble lord raised the tax level so he could steal more money, then all of the stolen money is returned, plus a "fine" in an amount equal to the amount stolen.

    This is as far as I have gotten with them, and like many others, I only decide on things that I absolutely need for the story, anything more might paint me into a corner or take up time better used for other things.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
  8. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Minstrel

    A little bit, not sure it's enough to call any of it a "system" at least. I know the big forbidden common to most societies, the exceptions and the reasons for the exceptions. Like the warrior culture of the Four Kingdoms is generally fine with stealth and subterfuge, because what they respect in warrior is skill. If you're good enough to get to someone's back unnoticed, you earned the right to stab them in it. But a toxic dust bomb is still bad, because anyone can throw a thing on the ground and sit back.

    I did start to make different heir laws for the Alde Clans though, like some it's only sons from oldest to youngest, others it's the previous king's sons, so an uncle would inherit before the king's children. For some it's best warrior among the sons, or best warrior in the clan period and they don't care about bloodlines. A couple also count daughters as valid candidates, for one of them the reason is that a King rules with his mind and his heart, so it doesn't matter if sons have bigger muscles, and for the other it's because they had a really badass female war-chief long ago according to their lore, so they think disregarding women fighters risks missing out on another potential one of those.

    I also know all imperial rulers are appointed by the God-Empress, so basically divine decree, while Alde leaders are chosen by more or less vote for whoever the clan thinks is the best for it, which is mostly the strongest or best warrior for the majority of them. And the Alden "courts" are basically mob assembly and supervised revenge with loose guidelines. Guy cut a tree that almost fell of you ? Probably an accident but give him a goat or a good axe or something. Murdered your son ? Rip off his junk. Shield-Maiden split this guy's skull, claims he tried to rape her, is that true ? Anyone see ? Yeah he pushed her against a wall, seemed pretty aggressive. Oh well that's fine then.
  9. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    to me, this system comes close to 'death squad' territory. People like this would be more feared than admired, and the likelihood of the Watchers being used to eradicate political rivals seems rather high, especially if they have some sort of official sanction. If they don't have official sanction, then a responsible ruler would probably try to destroy this group.
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Altearth of course uses the legal systems of medieval Europe with an underpinning of Roman law practices. That allows for a pretty big variety in actual proceedings. And I have to protest that while legal proceedings can be boring, they can also be exciting--or so contends Perry Mason et alia.

    One angle I have my eye on comes from the Vehmic courts of the late Middle Ages. Not too different from Signonnus' watchers (and I may swipe--with modifications--that notion of a truth charm; a nice version of the ticking clock!). It offers a nice opportunity for stories of moral ambiguity.

    Short answer to OP: not just a legal system but many legal systems, overlapping, intertwining, and competing.

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